Below is a personal reflection from Elly McKay Smith, our chaplain who was recently ordained.
Those that know me, know that I have had what I heard as a dual calling – not only to work with young people (and our staff), but I have also felt the call to rural ministry. So alongside working four days a week for YMCA DownsLink Group, I have been undergoing a process of discerning what that might look like. This initially involved lots of conversations with people to see if I had a real vocation or if it was just a passing whim. But they couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm no matter how hard they tried.
After an online series of interviews during lockdown, I was recommended for training by the Church of England and have been attending St Mellitus Theological College in London, firstly online and then in person on a Tuesday, with residentials away in Derbyshire and on one occasion Devon for the weekend.
Training on a part time basis isn’t easy, especially when it’s been a decade or so since you have charged up your grey matter with anything of substance, but with support from loads of people and from my lovely colleagues, I have very nearly finished studying. I say, very nearly, as being ordained is a complicated system. Now I have completed the first part of study and on the 24th of June I was ordained Deacon by Bishop Ruth at Chichester Cathedral. This gives me the title Reverend, allows me to wear a dog collar and has given me two churches that I will serve my curacy at.
So, what’s a curacy I hear you ask?
Well, it’s the practical part. Where I learn where to stand, what to do and when to do it within a church service. Then I also learn about pastoral care of my parishioners, take home communion to those unable to attend church, pray for those in need. I help with baptisms, funerals, and weddings and all manner of things that crop up. So far this has included a pet service (yes really – ‘bring your pets to church day’ is real!) and preparation to be part of a service at the Festival of Transport over the bank holiday weekend. I am not going to be bored that’s for sure!
One of the nicest things about being ordained was that I was with people that are of a similar mindset as I am, have faith, and want to use their gifts to make the world a better place. Of the eleven people ordained on the 24th, DLG had association with three of them. Along with myself, Sue Anson – former West Sussex chaplain – and Tracey Flintcroft, a volunteer in Worthing, were also ordained.
SO what’s changed? Wearing a clerical collar has caused me a few amusing moments so far. Walking round my local Tesco I have had men bow to me ! Something I could get used too.
Residents have been amusing in their reaction, some looking so far up as to avoid looking and appearing to stare. My Muslim friends in Guildford expressing joy and calling me Shaika. But then I found myself being brought back to earth by a resident telling me as he was Orthodox and they don’t recognise women in the Diaconate; it didn’t mean anything.
But, by far the funniest so far has been when I was on the tube in London during Pride. I was on my way to St Pauls Cathedral to take part in a service when a very handsome cowboy came onto the packed train dressed immaculately in Barbie pink.
He gently bent forward as he asked me if I was dressed up. NO I responded. WAS he, I asked? Much hilarity broke out. Apparently, people were shocked to realise that a Deacon can have a sense of humour.
Find out more about our chaplaincy service and how it makes a difference to the lives of young people in our supported housing HERE.